Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Come Hell or High Water, Neighbors Reach Out

Since the start of the New Year, the world has been experiencing quite a reckoning from Mother Nature. 2010 seems to be the year of ravaging inclement weather, from the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, to the “Snowmageddon” in Washington, DC, to the record breaking rain and flooding along the Northeast corridor.

These various storms have taken their toll on communities, shaking up livelihoods, uprooting people and families from their homes and leaving them at a loss for what to do next. Fortunately, members of these communities hit hard by Mother Nature are rallying together in the spirit of service and aiding those in need.

The early days of February 2010 brought snowstorms of epic proportions to Washington, DC. The area was pummeled by two large, consecutive storms, breaking snowfall records as the second snowiest February and the second all-time snowiest month ever, according to the National Weather Service. With 31.9 inches of snow falling in just 10 days, the city was forced to virtually shut down for almost a week. At the height of the storm, over 218,000 homes were without power, and 140,000 also had no heat, forcing many to dangerously bear the conditions and leave their homes or face being trapped for days.

In the aftermath of the two blizzards, D.C. locals grabbed their shovels and took to the streets, helping their neighbors dig out beneath the snow and get the city up and running again. Realizing that sidewalks and bus stops would be the dumping zones for snow plows, a couple of DC residents used their blog to set-up a “Shovel Brigade,” designating a place and time for people to come out and shovel local sidewalks and bus stops to improve accessibility in the their local community. Groups all over the city gathered together and shoveled these public spaces, making trekking around the city a bit more manageable and safer for all.

Local youth also used their snow days to serve their snow-buried communities, including digging out their schools so they could reopen quickly. Karen Kenna, the principal of Springfield, VA’s Cardinal Forest Elementary, called upon her students and their families to help shovel the school campus and earn community service hours. Over 50 students and their parents showed up and shoveled out parking lots and playgrounds, and occasionally participated in a snowball fight or two.

While snow wreaked havoc on the nation’s capitol in February, heavy rainfall and floods have walloped New England in late March. Boston recorded a record-breaking 12.84 inches of rain in March, a record held since 1953. This massive amount of rain caused rampant flooding as New England rivers like the Pawtuxet River crested over their banks and flooded the surrounding communities.

New England residents were forced to evacuate their homes and many major roads, including parts of Interstate 95, were shut down due to flooding. The American Red Cross is took the lead on serving and providing aid to these communities, offering shelters and information on how to deal with your home flooding. Many Red Cross members from across the country, including Illinois and San Diego were also deployed to the New England area to help in the relief efforts. Local organizations, such as the Lutheran Disaster Response Team in New England are also pulling together resources and encouraging volunteers to get involved in various activities such as making sandbags, participating in muck-outs, and assisting in warming shelters.

In many communities hit hard by big storms this year, community members have stepped up to help their neighbors and give back a little to their communities. Have you volunteered in local disaster relief efforts? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Flood-Pictures.com

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